Sara Jayne’s Near-Death Experience: What do you think?

Sara Jayne is a cardiac diagnostic imaging specialist with over 20 years’ experience in the medical field. After being diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease, she underwent a profound near-death experience (her second), which turned her life around. She now works in Mind-Body Medicine and Applied Neuroscience, delivering mindfulness-based health & wellbeing programs, workshops and retreats. On a recent episode of Passion Harvest Podcast, Sara Jayne shared her story with the host, Luisa, who had the very good sense to let her speak without interruption. Sara Jayne’s Near-Death Experience testimony (which begins at 18:00) was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I was impressed by her modesty, her frank admission that what she saw makes no medical sense, and the powerful transformative effect her experience has had on her life. What do readers think?

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Gender identity: A thought experiment

An open fiberglass float pool at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA. Image courtesy of Justin S. Feinstein , Sahib S. Khalsa, Hung-wen Yeh, Colleen Wohlrab, W. Kyle Simmons, Murray B. Stein, Martin P. Paulus and Wikipedia.

Gender identity is defined by Encyclopedia Britannica as “an individual’s self-conception as a man or woman or as a boy or girl or as some combination of man/boy and woman/girl or as someone fluctuating between man/boy and woman/girl or as someone outside those categories altogether.” While it is thought to have a genetic component, no genes have yet been found to underpin it, and a recent scientific paper titled, “Brain Sex Differences Related to Gender Identity Development: Genes or Hormones?” (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2020 Mar 19;21(6):2123. doi: 10.3390/ijms21062123. PMID: 32204531; PMCID: PMC7139786) modestly concludes that “to provide reliable conclusions, more data are needed.” Anyway, what interests me as a philosopher is whether gender identity is something purely subjective (like my perception of the color of a bank note), intersubjective (like the value that we as a society collectively assign to pieces of paper we call bank notes), or objective (like the length or mass of a bank note when it is at rest). So I came up with an interesting thought experiment involving a hitman, post-traumatic amnesia and a sensory deprivation tank. (Students of philosophy will notice the resemblance of this case to Avicenna’s “floating man” thought experiment, but my purpose is altogether different.) Curious? Read on.

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Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. explains the Trinity and the Incarnation (or does he)?

Fr. Spitzer’s Proof of the Unity of God
The Trinity explained by the act of looking at a bottle
The Incarnation
The central paradoxes of the Trinity and the Incarnation

(NOTE: I’ve included the above podcast, which is divided into five sections, for the benefit of those who would prefer to listen to what I’ve written, rather than read it. People who prefer to read my post are welcome to continue scrolling down.)

Fr. Robert Spitzer S.J. is a Catholic priest in the Jesuit order and a retired President of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Currently, he is President of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith and the Spitzer Center of Ethical Leadership. As well as having a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, Fr. Spitzer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a Master of Divinity degree, a Master of Theology degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree. He has published more than ten books, as well as dozens of articles, and he has appeared on several national television programs, including Larry King Live, The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” The Today Show, the PBS series “Closer to the Truth,” and the Hugh Hewitt Show. So when I came across a Youtube video featuring Fr. Spitzer being interviewed by Lila Rose (a pro-life activist and convert to Catholicism) titled, You’ve Never Heard the Trinity Explained Like THIS, I was intrigued.

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New Year’s Trifecta

Hi everyone, and Happy New Year! After having five enjoyable days off with my family, I’ll be returning to work this evening. In the meantime, I thought I’d present viewers of The Skeptical Zone with three interesting items for their perusal, as a New Year’s gift. The first is a thoughtfully argued essay on the problem of evil with reference to the atrocities committed by Hamas, titled, Where was God on October 7? A Different Perspective (The Times of Israel, January 1, 2024) by Professor Benjamin Porat, an Associate Professor at the Hebrew University Faculty of Law and a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. The second is an article titled, Kurt Gödel, his mother and the argument for life after death by Alexander Englert at Aeon Essays (January 2, 2024), which discusses Gödel’s reasons for believing in an afterlife, which he set forth in four letters he wrote to his mother in 1961. The third is a two-on-two debate held on December 22, 2023, in which two Christians (Jimmy Akin and Caleb Jackson) debated two atheists (John Loftus and Dr. Darren Slade) on whether Jesus was born of a virgin. The debate was hosted by Cameron Bertuzzi, of Capturing Christianity. Readers can view the debate below (see the Youtube video).
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Happy New Year

2024! I’m almost glad to see the back of 2023 but have little expectation of good news and I’m finding it hard to be optimistic. Is there anyone still reading The Skeptical Zone that can suggest something that could happen that might help me regain a bit of that lost optimism?

Nonetheless, Happy New Year to everyone.

An A-Z of Unanswered Objections to Christianity: Y. Has Christianity made the world a better place?

When one is assessing the credibility of a religion, impact matters: has it been a force for good or for evil? In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his followers how to discern false prophets: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, NASB). This is a test that can be applied not only to prophets, but to entire religions. What I am proposing in this essay is that while a religion which makes our world a better place may not necessarily be true on that account, its positive influence on the course of human history at least renders it worthy of consideration. On the other hand, we can probably disregard the truth claims of a religion which leaves the world no better than it was before, and ignore altogether the claims of a religion which actually makes the world a worse place in which to live. So the question we need to ask, before examining the intellectual claims of Christianity, is: has Christianity made the world a better place?

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Dr. Jeffrey Tripp on the failure of undesigned coincidences

Dr. Jeffrey Tripp has a PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity. He is also the author of a text titled, Direct Internal Quotation in the Gospel of John. His academic publications can be found here. In this interview with Derek Lambert of Mythvision, Dr. Tripp critiques the argument from undesigned coincidences developed by Christian apologist Dr. Lydia McGrew in her book, Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts. I have to say that Dr. Tripp’s rebuttal of Dr. McGrew’s argument is about the best I’ve seen yet: it’s fair, thorough, courteous and scholarly. What do viewers think?

Assembly theory explains and quantifies selection and evolution

Scientists have grappled with reconciling biological evolution1,2 with the immutable laws of the Universe defined by physics. These laws underpin life’s origin, evolution and the development of human culture and technology, yet they do not predict the emergence of these phenomena.

Evolutionary theory explains why some things exist and others do not through the lens of selection. To comprehend how diverse, open-ended forms can emerge from physics without an inherent design blueprint, a new approach to understanding and quantifying selection is necessary3,4,5.

We present assembly theory (AT) as a framework that does not alter the laws of physics, but redefines the concept of an ‘object’ on which these laws act. AT conceptualizes objects not as point particles, but as entities defined by their possible formation histories. This allows objects to show evidence of selection, within well-defined boundaries of individuals or selected units.

We introduce a measure called assembly (A), capturing the degree of causation required to produce a given ensemble of objects. This approach enables us to incorporate novelty generation and selection into the physics of complex objects. It explains how these objects can be characterized through a forward dynamical process considering their assembly.

By reimagining the concept of matter within assembly spaces, AT provides a powerful interface between physics and biology. It discloses a new aspect of physics emerging at the chemical scale, whereby history and causal contingency influence what exists.


The Expanded Problem of Animal Suffering

Phil Halper (aka SkydivePhil) has produced a hard-hitting new video titled, “Atheism’s Best Argument? The Problem of Animal Suffering & The Neuroscience of Pain,” in conjunction with philosopher of consciousness Ken Williford, neuroscientist David Rudrauf, pain expert Perry Fuchs, as well as ethicists Peter Singer and Mark Bernstein, and philosopher Joe Schmid and Within Reason host Alex O’Connor (the artist formerly known as cosmic skeptic). Here’s a brief excerpt from the video’s description:

The problem of animal suffering (a version of the problem of evil) has recently been described as the biggest problem for Christianity. However, a new paper in the International Journal for Philosophy of Religion suggests that the problem is far worse than imagined. Here, we explain why and counter attempts by theists to reply.

I’ll be putting out a TSZ post on the problem of evil later this year. In the meantime, I’d like to ask viewers what they think of SkydivePhil’s latest video. Comment is welcome.

The Shroud of Turin: Why I think the image is natural and probably medieval

Recently, some prominent defenders of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin have produced a spate of online videos promoting their point of view. We’ll have a look at two of these below. At first blush, they sounded pretty convincing – especially their attempts to debunk the carbon-14 dating for the Shroud to somewhere between 1260 and 1390. I then did some online research, and I came across some very convincing rebuttals of popular pro-Shroud arguments. Interestingly, these rebuttals were made by a Catholic science teacher named Hugh Farey, a current former editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud newsletter, and a former Shroud believer. I was highly impressed with Hugh Farey’s eloquence as a speaker. Shroud believers will find his arguments devastating. I post them here for readers’ interest.

5 Popular Arguments for the Shroud of Turin Debunked

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weirdly, fuel efficiency can be expressed as an area

Yesterday I saw someone joking online about how if you apply dimensional analysis to fuel efficiency, you end up with an area. Why? Because fuel efficiency is expressed (in Canada and Europe, anyway) as liters per 100 kilometers. The liter is a unit of volume, or length3. The kilometer is a unit of length. If you divide length3 by length, you end up with length2, or area. (Similar reasoning applies to American-style fuel efficiency expressed as miles per gallon.) Continue reading

Maximum mutational robustness in genotype–phenotype maps follows a self-similar blancmange-like curve


Phenotype robustness, defined as the average mutational robustness of all the genotypes that map to a given phenotype, plays a key role in facilitating neutral exploration of novel phenotypic variation by an evolving population. By applying results from coding theory, we prove that the maximum phenotype robustness occurs when genotypes are organized as bricklayer’s graphs, so-called because they resemble the way in which a bricklayer would fill in a Hamming graph. The value of the maximal robustness is given by a fractal continuous everywhere but differentiable nowhere sums-of-digits function from number theory. Interestingly, genotype–phenotype maps for RNA secondary structure and the hydrophobic-polar (HP) model for protein folding can exhibit phenotype robustness that exactly attains this upper bound. By exploiting properties of the sums-of-digits function, we prove a lower bound on the deviation of the maximum robustness of phenotypes with multiple neutral components from the bricklayer’s graph bound, and show that RNA secondary structure phenotypes obey this bound. Finally, we show how robustness changes when phenotypes are coarse-grained and derive a formula and associated bounds for the transition probabilities between such phenotypes.


Evolutionist against gradualism?

Annotated […] excerpts :

We now know that Darwin’s ‘gradualist’ view of evolution, exclusively driven by natural selection, is no longer compatible with contemporary science.

Species do not emerge from an accumulation of random genetic changes. This has been confirmed by 21st-century genome sequencing, but the idea that natural selection inadequately explains evolutionary change goes back 151 years – to Darwin himself. Continue reading

Marmorkrebs disprove “Natural Selection”

(F) Growth differences of five juveniles from dam B that were size-matched in stage 6 and then cultured in an aquarium without shelter. 34 days later, one specimen was in stage 11, one in stage 9 and three were in stage 7. Scale bar, 4 mm.

The facts

A 2008 study popularized by Michael Blastland in his book, ‘The Hidden Half’, shows that genetically identical crayfish (clones) from the same batch and grown in a tightly controlled identical environment vary wildly in size, lifespan, behavior, appearance, growth rate, molting, reproduction, etc. Continue reading

What do you think of Dr. Lydia McGrew’s Elevator Pitch for the Resurrection?

Dr. Lydia McGrew is a renowned Christian apologist and philosopher, who surely needs no introduction to viewers of this blog. Recently, she released her Elevator Pitch for the Resurrection of Jesus on Cameron Bertuzzi’s Youtube channel, Capturing Christianity. Here it is:

(For the benefit of viewers, I should explain that Dr. Lydia McGrew suffers from severe back pain.)

I decided to post a short six-minute reply, summarizing and rebutting her case. I conclude that the Resurrection of Jesus is something that believers have to take on faith. What do you think?

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Are We Living in an Existential Vacuum?

The existential vacuum is a widespread phenomenon of the 20th century.” said Viktor Frankl.

I am living in an existential vacuum. We pay a price for our relative freedom. Animals are rooted in being governed by instincts which they are obliged to follow. Humans are set free from this obligation. We escaped from a life of instinct only to have tradition curtailing individual freedom. Modern society has allowed us the opportunity to wrestle free from these bonds, but, like a child thrown into a swimming pool by a parent eager to teach it to swim, we tend to flail about having been left to our own devices. A feeling of abandonment may lie deep within my soul. My reliance on instinct and tradition has been pulled from under my feet. What should I do? Follow the crowd, or look for an authority that is going to tell me what to do and think? Or stand on my own two feet and find my own path? Continue reading